Sunday, July 05, 2009

Some talkies what I seen down at the picture show

Ever listen to Kashmir on repeat for two hours while playing Halo? I have.

30 Rock Seasons One & Two: I watched these quite a while ago, but I figure I'll give quick capsule reviews to the TV seasons I watch, too. I don't follow 30 Rock regularly on NBC, but I ended up marathoning through these two seasons and falling completely in love with the show. It's wonderfully absurd, with quick, sharp dialogue, and Alec Baldwin at his comedic best. Also, I may have fallen in love with Tina Fey. While it doesn't utilize the various members of its cast as well as it could-- with some just fading into the background or disappearing altogether for long stretches-- its pace keeps you in rapt attention. It's just the right kind of offbeat to work in both mainstream and alternative circles, I think. Combine that with a parade of guest stars at their silliest (Tim Conway: "Who is Conan O'Brien, and why is she so sad?"), and you've got a lovely show formula. Upload season three already, Netflix!

Alien Apocalypse/Man with the Screaming Brain: Saw these two Bruce Campbell flicks years ago when they aired on the Sci-Fi Channel, but I just bought the two-pack for super-cheap on Amazon (It literally says "Double the chin!" on the packaging). They're two movies Bruce filmed back-to-back in Bulgaria on the cheap. Alien, directed by Bruce's pal Josh Becker, isn't as terrible as I remember. Cobble together Planet of the Apes, Independence Day, and Spartcus, and you've got the plot-- astronauts return to Earth from deep space to find giant bugs took the place over and enslaved humanity. Leave it to Bruce to save the day. In made-for-TV sci-fi standards, it's watchable.

Screaming Brain is what the hardcore chin fans are after here, though; it's Bruce's feature directorial debut, the story of a rude American businessman who travels to Bulgaria, dies, and ends up sharing a brain with a dead KGB agent. They team up to find the woman who killed them both, and it takes them on a path involving robots, Ted Raimi, and Stacy Keach. The film's pretty awful (in a good way), but the extras on the disc are great, detailing the 20-year chain of dead ends that finally let up so they could make the film. Bruce always gives the best commentaries, as well-- he's a natural raconteur who will gladly reveal all the ridiculousness of the moviemaking process. The movie's clearly not up to snuff with how it was originally conceived, but he seemed glad just to get the damn thing made.

Anatomy of a Murder: Preminger's classic, this movie's almost three hour running time just flies by. It's a classic courtroom drama for a reason; marvelously written, incredibly realistic, and fairly incendiary for its time-- Jimmy Stewart is pretty much the precursor to James Spader's Alan Shore here, though there's no damn closing argument, which is upsetting-- it's a great old-timey movie.

Baghead: This is a Duplass brothers flick, part of that "mumblecore" genre all the kids are talking about, which usually describes a movie shot for next to nothing on camcorders, with plotting and script giving way to improvisation about relationships. But! The Duplasses take that and throw it into the middle of a cabin-in-the-woods horror story, which turns the film into a generally tense story featuring characters we actually care about. It's funny, it's scary, it subverts the viewer's expectations every ten minutes or so, undergoing constant permutation. If you're up for an indie horror-dramedy-mumblecore-relationship-spoof sort of movie, you're not going to find one more well done than this. Fantastically written. Definitely the best movie I've seen in a while. And I watch a lot of movies.

An early effort from Woody Allen, this has the feel of a Peter Sellers or Mel Brooks movie, instead. The usual Allen nebbish follows a girl he's hung up on to a stand-in for Cuba, accidentally becomes involved in the resistance, and later becomes the leader. There are some really fantastic scenes here rife with intellectual absurdism. The courtroom scene in particular is famous for a reason ("This trial is a travesty. It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.") And the Catholic cigarette commercial...! I lost it. Great movie.

Californication Season One:
I turned this on because I was bored and depressed, and I figured it would have boobs. Color me surprised when I cottoned to it pretty quickly! I think that's how the show probably hooked all its viewers. It's a great guilty pleasure show, with crass humor and sex scenes, but the writers put great dialogue in David Duchovny's mouth, and that sells the whole thing.

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas:
There's little plot to speak of in this film, but Johnny Depp's acting is excellent. He embodies the completely disintegrative character of Raoul Duke (aka Hunter S. Thompson), as he goes on the mother of all benders. What's it actually about? Good question, but just sit back and experience the thing with Terry Gilliam's excellent direction and the parade of people-who-are-now-famous. It's probably the closest thing to a drug trip you can get without actually dropping acid.

Jeremy Clarkson: Heaven and Hell:
This isn't a movie, but rather some kind of straight-to-DVD Top Gear spin-off, where Clarkson talks about cars. And it's cheeky enough, I guess, but lacks all the true madness and camaraderie of proper Top Gear, so it's just okay.

A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy: Another Woody Allen picture, this incorporates some Bergmanian and Shakespearian riffs (obviously) as three couples in the early 20th century undergo their own romantic crises and partner-swapping. Kinda cute, funny, well-written... you know the drill with Woody by now.

North by Northwest: I'd somehow avoided seeing this classic Hitchcock adventure film. And it's fun and all, but knowing all the beats going in probably hurts it. Cary Grant tries his damndest to play an everyman, and pretty much succeeds. Eva Marie Saint-- who looks exactly like Kristen Chenoweth here-- does a capable job as well. Still not my favorite Hitch film (that's Rear Window), but it's a fun, exciting sort of film.

The Reader:
No fun or excitement here, but it's very good nonetheless. This is one of those movies you only need to see once. It's a thoroughly dramatic tale of a young man who has a sexual relationship with an older woman when he's in his teens, only for her to vanish from his life-- and turn up on trial for Holocaustian war crimes when he's in law school. He must struggle to come to terms with it, yadda yadda. Winslet got all the credit and awards here, but it's the young David Kross who owns the whole movie. He's a revelation. The first, hell, hour or so is slow, but it's filled with sex so that you'll stick through it. And you'll be glad you did, though you'll never want to see the movie again. You should see it once, though.

Slap Shot:
Paul Newman clearly had the time of his life on this picture, playing an over-the-hill, unscrupulous hockey coach/player looking to get his team one last shot at glory by becoming the most violent sumbitches they can. And it's great. Not exactly funny for a comedy, but just plain fun.

Supposedly one of Woody Allen's classics, but I didn't like it. It's a 1984/2001 sort of future-sci-fi spoof, but a lot of the comedic bits fall flat or are too dumb. Too dumb? From Woody Allen? I never would've expected it.

Slumdog Millionaire:
What a miserable pile of movie this is. Maybe I willed myself to dislike it-- because I never, ever like the Best Picture winners-- but damn. It was shot well, and the subtitles were done interestingly, and that's all I liked about it. Every character except our protagonist and his main squeeze is an asshole, and the entire plot is massively contrived-- so every question he's asked on Millionaire happens to relate somehow to a story from his unfortunate life? Ugh. Ugh ugh, ugh, bleh.

The Thomas Crown Affair:
This is the original, what with Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway. And it's dreadfully boring, wasting time on McQueen playing with toys like a dune buggy or a glider, or staring off into space, or whatever. The music's neat, the splitscreen techniques are good, and McQueen's maniacal laughter is awesome, but it's still dull.

It's a Tom Cruise/Bryan Singer movie, so of course I didn't like it. Flat, flat, boring, dull, etc, whatever. But Bill Nighy's in it! Yay!